Recap: Co-Creation Community Learning Spaces ‘The Future of the Traditional Lecture’

Earlier this year, teachers, students and staff participated in the workshop ‘The future of the traditional lecture’ organized by the Co-Creation Community Learning Spaces.

In Theatron, the largest UU lecture hall, participants first were challenged to, literally, take a stand on some statements about traditional lectures. The stage was divided in 2 halves, one representing the side of ‘agree’, and the other of ‘disagree’.

Three controversial statements about traditional lectures were presented and participants were asked to signal their opinion by taking a position at the stage and invited to explain their position. In example, for the statement ‘The traditional lecture is an effective educational method’ participants mentioned that the traditional lecture can be an effective educational method, especially when the teacher knows how to lecture in an appealing way. At the same time, participants discussed that there are other methods that could be way more effective than the traditional lecture.

In the next part experienced lecturers Emanuel van Dongen and Tom Frijns examined the proposition from both sides.

Pitch Emanuel van Dongen; proponent of traditional lectures:

  • During the pandemic it became clear that online education is not the best option
  • Storytelling can be an effective way of teaching, inspiring, exciting
  • Students can socialize and get to know each other, share ideas
  • Far more happening than just a flow of information
  • Introduction to material
  • Place to ask questions to teachers/peers
  • Having a nice time together
  • Interaction
  • Lecture as a theatre = fun, it’s a kind of magic
  • Lectures make it easier to understand the topic
  • The problem is not the lecture itself, but the way lecturers make use of it
  • Lectures could be redesigned by students to enhance student learning substantially
  • Little attention span can be integrated in the way lectures are build up
  • Lectures can take students through an intellectual journey
  • Pitch Tom Frijns; opponent of traditional lectures:
  • Not opposed to lectures but to ‘traditional’ lectures
  • Lecture halls with rows are designed for one way flow of information and that’s suboptimal
  • Collaboration is less facilitated in a traditional lecture hall
  • As teachers we should never accept the status quo but look beyond and try to make things better
  • We are too depended on the quality of the professors
  • Lectures have an overload of information that students can’t process
  • Waste of time and energy with increased trend
  • Professors knowledge is more in life experiences, not to tell something out of books

It was interesting to see the differences in the way both lecturers gave their pitches. Emanuel was lecturing, standing behind the desk, based on a prepared story on paper. Tom walked as close as he could at the stage towards the audience, moved around to look into the eyes of different persons, used his hands and body while talking, without the use of notes.

What was special about this part of the meeting was the deepening of the theses through the different insights the participants brought with them. Both speakers agreed that a lecture can have its uses. However it depends on with what kind of learning activity (or learning space) you compare a traditional lecture to whether the speakers stated to be proponent or opponent. Emanuel compared the traditional lecture with online education and argued why he especially thought traditional lectures on location are better. For presenting a legal case, for example, it can be very useful, but elaborating on it is less so. Tom stated that comparing a traditional lecture with other possible teaching methods/learning activities he mostly prefers other learning activities because students than can participate in a more active way and interact more easily with the teacher and with other students. And that the traditional lecture halls limit the possibilities of more active participation of student and interaction.

What is considered indispensable for a meaningful lecture is the active participation of students in their learning process. It became clear that the one-sided flow of information (from the teacher to the student) is not benefitting any of those involved.

Thus, after the pitches, all participants went into groups to brainstorm how a traditional lecture can be made more (inter)active. Some ideas that where shared after this brainstorm: use quizzes and polls, give assignments and ask questions, use a ‘catch box microphone’ to give students a voice that can be heard by everyone in de room.

The next assignment was: ‘Imagine this lecture hall 10 years from now, in 2032. Assuming it will be used for education, in what way will it be used?’. For the second proposition, the co-creation element was brought back by the community. There were scintillating conversations about the future of the Theatron lecture hall and, in particular, how the spatial layout could change for the better. A lot of ideas arose for example installing microphones at each table, having moveable tables for group work, VR equipment that can fall down from the ceiling or redesigning the whole lecture room to make it more inclusive.

In the end, a plenary discussion was held and it became apparent that some participants could be moved to reconsider their initial point of view through the exchange, the pitches, and the discussions. In conclusion, it can be said that there was a vibrant exchange, lively interest, and a respectful discussion on this highly topical and important subject.